Anthony James founded the Charlotte Flights Track Club in 1991. In 24 years, he’s helped produce 52 youth national champions and dozens of college athletes. James admits he’s loathe to heap praise upon his athletes, but 10-year-old Chloe Kearney of Weddington is a sprinter the likes of which he might never have seen before.
Today, the Observer recognizes three area youths who might have spectacular futures. James certainly believes that Kearney, who is new to her sport, fits the bill.
“She’s a natural freak of nature,” James said. “The thing that sets her apart, though, is her work ethic is unbelievable. She brings it to the track every day. She’s blowing my mind right now, and she’s not even had a full season of summer track yet.”
Kearney’s top sport, until recently, was softball. At 9, she could throw nearly 50 miles per hour.
Alexander Central High School softball coach Monte Sherrill recently won his 10th state championship and watched his team finish No. 1 in the national polls. Sherrill says a 9-year-old girl throwing 50 is, well, “mega unusual, like freakish.”
“The average high school kid is throwing 55,” he said. “I’ve only heard of one other girl throwing that hard that early – about 15 years ago.”
But it wasn’t Kearney’s throwing arm that was getting most people’s attention. It was for how fast she could run around the bases.
“People started saying, ‘Maybe she should run track,’ ” said Chloe’s father, Craig, who played college basketball at West Virginia. “So she went to one track meet last year and ended up winning. The next meet was a regional meet. She came in second. We went to nationals and she finished second in the 55 (meters) and fourth in 200 – and that was just raw with no training.”
After that performance at the USA Track and Field Youth Indoor nationals, Kearney has stepped up her dedication to track. At the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic N.C. state meet last month, Kearney ran against athletes who were 11 and 12 years old, as much as 18 months older. She finished third in the 100 in 13.76 seconds, running into the wind (the winning time was 13.12). The boys’ winning time in the 9- and 10-year-old group was 13.60.
In the 200, again running with older runners, Kearney was third in 26.77 seconds. The winning time was 23.26. The winning time for the 9- and 10-year-old boys group was 27.01.
In the 400, Kearney was second in 1:01.79 against the older girls. She would’ve finished second in the 9- and 10-year-old boys race. And remember, Kearney, who is 4-foot-8 and 79 pounds, is just getting started.
“The sky, seriously, is the limit with her,” said James, the Charlotte Flights’ coach. “The reason I say that is that I’ve a few kids just as fast at that age, but nobody has the work ethic or learning curve. In practice, I have to run her with 17- and 18-year-old girls sometimes. Some of the younger girls won’t run with her because she runs so hard. She’s a special one, without a doubt.”
Today, Kearney works out with the Charlotte Flights and twice a week with trainer Jed Hartigan, owner of Charlotte’s Velocity Sports Performance. Hartigan trained Jadeveon Clowney, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. At Velocity, Kearney goes through a rigorous series of exercises Hartigan might use on a high school or college athlete. He has her jump on top of a box that is 36 inches high from a flat-footed start. Kearney does it no problem. Kearney has the body shape of a miniature college sprinter, broad and thick shoulders, thickly muscled. She has a 27-inch vertical leap and can run a 5.2-second 40-yard dash. She swings heavy kettlebell weights like grapefruits and leaps tall track hurdles effortlessly, knees tucked against her chest.
Hartigan said Stack Magazine, a national publication that teaches pro athletes’ workout routines to high school kids, has contacted him about a potential story on Kearney.
“She’s a child prodigy,” Hartigan said. “These type athletes don’t come around ever. I’ve probably seen 5,000 athletes in 11 years and nobody at this age compares to her strength-wise, power-wise, motivation-wise, work ethic, character. She has all the right qualities. Keep on the right track, stay healthy, man, I would put her against the top 10-year-old boy in the state in anything. She’s phenomenal.”
Hartigan has worked with Kearney since she was 6.
“She was doing things then that most 10- and 12-year-old girls do,” Hartigan said. “Now she does things that most 20-year-olds do. For a kid that age to be that motivated, I’ve not seen it. I’ve worked with Clowney, and they both have the same spark. He’s once in a lifetime, 270 pounds and runs a sub 4.5 (second) 40, and he does things that most guys his size can’t do. She can do things that most 15- or 16-year-olds can’t do. If she keeps progressing with no injuries, and this is up to her, but she’s on pace for the Olympics.”
She is also an Honor Roll student at Weddington Elementary.
Kearney, who will be a sixth-grader in the fall, comes across a little shy, but otherwise normal. Everybody at Weddington Elementary knows she is fast, and ever since she beat the fastest boy in school last year, folks have stopped asking her to race. She likes to hang out with her friends, watch a little TV. She doesn’t eat sweets. “I can have a small – small – piece of cake on someone’s birthday,” she said. She hasn’t had McDonald’s in more than a year, and she never, ever, drinks a soda.
“I want to to go to the Olympics,” she said. “I think it’s a real goal. I like playing around, like any kid, but I want to get faster, and I know I have to work to get there. And I love working.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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